2012 Arkansas Preview – Defense
Arkansas DT Byran Jones
CollegeFootballNews.com 2012 Preview - Arkansas Razorback Defense
Preview 2012 - Defense
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What You Need To Know: Defensive coordinator Paul Hanes handled the Ohio State secondary before coming in this offseason, and he’s not going to change things up after a solid season. The pass rush was strong but it could stand to be a little better after losing Jake Bequette on the end. However, one of the top options, Tenarius Wright, will move to linebacker in one of the biggest changes of the offseason. He’ll join Alonzo Highsmith to form a very good, very active pair, but the hope is that the tackle tandem of Byran Jones and Robert Thomas will be a little stronger in the interior to the back seven won’t have to do as much. The secondary wasn’t exactly tested on a regular basis, but it was solid and should be just as good this year if the corners can be consistent.
Star of the defense: Senior LB Alonzo Highsmith
Tackles: Alonzo Highsmith, 74
Sacks: Alonzo Highsmith, 3
Interceptions: Eric Bennett, 3
Player who has to step up and be a star: Junior DE Chris Smith
Unsung star on the rise: Sophomore CB Tevin Mitchel
Best pro prospect: Highsmith
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Highsmith, 2) S Eric Bennett, 3) LB Tenarius Wright
Strength of the defense: Tackle, Linebacker
Weakness of the defense: Sure-Thing Pass Rusher, Corner
The defensive front has to find a consistent pass rusher with Jake Bequette and his ten sacks out of the equation, With Tenarius Wright moving from end to linebacker, sophomore Trey Flowers will have to play an even bigger role after earning SEC All-Freshman honors. The 6-4, 243-pounder was a terrific part of the rotation making 28 tackles with a sack and 5.5 tackles for loss. While he’s tough against the run, his real worth will be as a speed rusher. He’ll work in a rotation with Colton Miles-Nash, a 6-6, 261-pound senior who came up with a huge blocked punt against Ohio State in the Sugar Bowl two years ago but made just five tackles last season. The skills are there to become a dangerous pass rusher, but now he has to produce.
6-3, 251-pound junior Chris Smith is a speed rusher who could emerge as the team’s most disruptive force on the outside after making 31 tackles with 3.5 sacks and six tackles for loss. He has a little bit of starting experience and now should be the playmaker the rest of the line works around. At least that’s the hope, while 6-5, 260-pound JUCO transfer Austin Flynn is a pure pass rusher who could be a specialist after making 11 sacks with 21 quarterback hurries for Los Angeles Harbor College. With great size along with a great burst, the upside is limitless.
Looking to add more toughness to the inside is 6-2, 312-pound junior Byran Jones, a 13-game starter last year who got the call since the final month of the 2010 season. Built for the nose, he has the size along with the experience to be an anchor against the run. Active in the interior, he made 47 tackles with a sack and 4.5 tackles for loss. He’ll be backed up by Alfred Davis, a 6-1, 318-pound spot starter who made 14 tackles in the rotation. A pure nose tackle, he gets great leverage and is decent at holding his own.
Former JUCO transfer Robert Thomas started the first five games of last year before turning into part of the rotation finishing with 23 tackles with a sack and 2.5 tackles for loss. At 6-3 and a slimmed down 308 pounds he has the prototype tackle size to go along with the athleticism to become a more dangerous interior pass rusher. Not quite the same after missing the Auburn game in the middle of the year, now he’s healthy and appearing to be ready for a big year. 6-5, 299-pound senior DeQuinta Jones started 11 times last year as an athletic tackle and a big end making 19 tackles with a sack. Not a pass rusher, the one-time top prospect has one final year to make a huge impact.
Watch Out For … Flowers and Miles-Nash. Wright was able to move to linebacker because the other ends looked ready to make a bigger splash. Flowers and Miles-Nash don’t have to be all-stars, but they need to be steady.
Strength: Size. This is a big, BIG front four with a slew of 300-pounders for the inside and perfect-sized ends on the outside. Not only are the first-teamers large, there’s more where that came from with a slew of big reserves ready to roll in the rotation. Now all that bulk has to translate into better …
Weakness: Run defense. The Hogs failed to give a rushing touchdown in their first three games, and then they actually played a team with a pulse. Texas A&M ran wild with 381 yards and five scores and LSU rumbled at will for 286 yards and three touchdowns. While the run D came up big in the bowl win over Kansas State, it wasn’t a consistent enough rock throughout the year.
Outlook: With experience, size and talent the line should be far more productive than it was throughout the SEC season. While losing Bequette is a problem for the pass rush, this season there’s no excuse to not be far, far stronger against the run. There are more than enough options to play around with to hope for one of the ends to step up and become a dangerous playmaker in the backfield.
Unit Rating: 7.5
Gone is leading tackler Jerry Franklin from the middle, but it’s not like the Hogs are lacking for options. In the biggest move of the offseason under the new coaching staff, defensive end Tenarius Wright is moving to linebacker and could see time in the middle. The 6-2, 252-pounder made 25 tackles, 1.5 sacks and 5.5 tackles for loss in eight games. He’s built like a pure middle linebacker with the speed, quickness and range to work as a pass rusher. Staying healthy will be a must after missing five games last season.
Also needing to be healthy is Alonzo Highsmith, the 6-1, 233-pound senior who’s trying to get over a torn pectoral muscle. The former transfer from Phoenix College in Arizona started every game and turned into a big-time playmaker in the backfield with 4.5 sacks and 12.5 tackles for loss while finishing third on the team with 80 tackles. Extremely fast and with a great burst, he should be in the mix for all-star honors if he can crank out a few more sacks from the outside.
There was a rotation at the other outside spot throughout last season, but Matt Marshall wasn’t a part of the starting mix. The 6-1, 230-pound senior saw plenty of playing making 11 tackle with a tackle for loss, and now he needs to show off the speed and quickness to be a disruptive forces with a bigger role. He’ll rotate with 6-3, 223-pound junior Jarrett Lake, a great athlete who became a nice part of the linebacking corps making 12 tackles. The potential is there to be a situational pass rusher or a specialist.
If Wright ends up moving around a bit, or goes back to end, 6-3, 232-pound sophomore Braylon Mitchell will find a starting spot. With excellent size and phenomenal quickness, he was a big-time recruit two years ago and now he’s even bigger and stronger. A special teamer last season, he made just seven tackles but is expected to quickly blossom into a playmaker once he gets into the mix.
Watch Out For … the situation in the middle. Wright is a natural football player who’ll produce no matter where he plays, but it’s possible that Highsmith steps inside from time to time and there’s a chance that the line needs more help at end. It won’t be easy to replace Franklin.
Strength: Quickness and size. The Hog linebackers have a nice blend of quickness and athleticism to go along with the size needed to hold up week after week in SEC play. While it might seem like the linebackers are beefed up defensive backs working in the three spots, everyone looks the part.
Weakness: Jerry Franklin. He closed out his career with 376 tackles and was a heart-and-soul leader both on the field and on the stat sheet for four years. Arkansas will replace his numbers, but it’ll be tough to quickly replace what he meant to the defensive front seven.
Outlook: While the biggest transformation under Petrino might have been the offense, the former head coach did one of his best jobs improving the linebacking corps. It took a little while, but now the talent is there across the board to match up well with just about anyone in the country. While there might be problems with the more powerful teams, there won’t be any issues dealing with the faster ones.
Unit Rating: 7
The hope was for Tevin Mitchel to make a different right away, and he more than came through finishing 56 tackles with a tackle for loss. However, despite taking over the starting job halfway through the season and seeing time all 13 games, he only broke up one pass and didn’t pick off any passes. At 6-0 and 192 pounds he has good size and great tackling ability at one corner.
Senior Darius Winston started the first six games at one corner spot before giving way to Mitchel, but now he’ll likely take back a starting job after making 18 tackles. However, he didn’t come up with any picks or any broken up passes. A mega-recruit in 2009, the 6-0, 191-pounder hasn’t lived up to the potential, partly because the prep hype was through the roof, but he’s been a decent defender who needs to shine in his final year.
6-0, 206-pound junior Eric Bennett started out his career at corner before moving over to safety, finishing fourth on the team with 74 tackles with three picks and three tackles for loss. He has decent size and he can move, but he’s at his best when he gets to make things happen against the run. Consistent, he should be the best player in a strong secondary.
Senior Ross Rasner was a spot starter who stepped in as an outside linebacker against Vanderbilt, Tennessee and LSU, finishing the year with 53 tackles and two sacks and three broken up passes. A tremendous special teamer, he’s a willing hitter with 6-0, 212-pound size to hold up against the run and the quickness to get a long look at the starting free safety job. He’ll combine with junior Jerry Mitchell, a 6-1, 219-pound veteran who spent part of his career at corner but will work at both safety spots to get him on the field. Extremely fast, with high school all-star sprinter’s speed, he shouldn’t have any problems staying with the faster targets while he has the size to bully the bigger ones. He has an interesting blend of skills and could quickly develop into a No. 1 corner.
Watch Out For … Rasner. He has the mentality needed at safety and he could be one of the team’s leading tacklers now that he has a full-time job. He could work as a nickel or dime defender and move around where needed to get him in the best position.
Strength: Size. There aren’t any lightweights and there aren’t any little defenders who can’t hold their own physically. 6-3, 190-pound redshirt freshman Davyon McKinney and 6-0, 212-pound Alan Turner add even more size to the mix.
Weakness: Reality. The statistics for the secondary were terrific, but there was one major reason – the Hogs didn’t play the Hogs. Arkansas was the one team in the SEC that could actually throw, but Texas A&M had a decent day through the air – considering it ran at will on the front seven – and Tennessee was able to throw for 238 yards. Getting Kansas State in the Cotton Bowl was perfect.
Outlook: The secondary should be a plus no matter who it’s playing against. There are a few losses, and Mitchell has to show he’s ready to become a major factor at one corner spot on the other side of Winston, but while there might not be any sure-thing all-stars the Hogs will be set.
Unit Rating: 7
Junior Zach Hocker nailed 16-of-19 field goals in 2011 after taking over from Alex Tejada, and he was just as strong last year connecting on 21-of-27 field goals. However, there were a few close misses before nailing his last seven shots. He doesn’t have a cannon, but he’s rock solid from 50 yards and in.
Senior punter Dylan Breeding was fantastic following up his 42.5-yard average in 2010 by coming up with a huge 2011 averaging 45.3 yards per try putting 16 inside the 20 and forcing 16 fair catches. With a big leg and great accuracy, he’s one of the nation’s best punters earning second-team All-SEC honors.
Running back Dennis Johnson is one of the nation’s elite kickoff returners averaging 25.6 yards per try with a score, while receiver Marquel Wade, if he can get into good standing with the team again, will be a factor after also averaging 25.6 yards per try with a score.
Watch Out For … the kicking game to be among the strongest in the conference. Hocker and Breeding have been around long enough to not be worried about pressure and they should be the difference in a few games. Breeding should be in the hunt for All-America honors.
Strength: The kicking game and Johnson as a kickoff returner. Breeding and Hocker are special, while Johnson, highlighted by his return for a score against South Carolina, showed he’s a weapon who has to be avoided.
Weakness: The coverage teams. Everything else worked on the special teams, but the Hogs couldn’t cover anyone allowing 14 yards per punt return and two scores and gave up 22.3 yards per kickoff return.
Outlook: Replacing Joe Adams won’t be easy. The former receiver averaged 16.9 yards per punt return with four scores, and the coverage teams stunk, but everything else is terrific. There are enough speedsters to do even more for the return game, while the kickers will be outstanding.
Unit Rating: 7.5
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